Monday, September 23, 2013

Avial, the Masterpiece of Malabar

Avial has earned its reputation as Malabar's signature dish and is beloved throughout the subcontinent. An initial glance at the recipe below may not excite, but the sum of these simple parts boasts complex flavors beyond the scope of other more "gently spiced" Indian vegetable preparations. In an ideal world/kitchen, serve with plain basmati rice, plenty of pappadums (crispy lentil wafer breads) and onion relish.
Re-heated avial for lunch the next day, with sambar, brown rice, stir-fried lentil sprouts and hari chutney.

Cafe Drake HRV assembled this composite recipe after trying several others that just fell short of avial perfection. We think we got it right so a few rules before we begin: for this vegetarian entree to really sing there are no substitutions for black mustard seeds, coconut oil or the plantains. Schedule a quick trip to the appropriate market(s) before preparing. Secondly, if you can't commit to salting bravely then stick with other Indian dishes requiring less sodium; avial needs to be fairly salty (but eaten in small amounts and with copious amounts of rice to balance the salty tanginess). Finally, low-fat plain yogurt can be used in worst case scenarios but non-fat is bitter, chalky, prone to curdling, unacceptable here.

If you can get  beyond our officious and bossy tone, let's proceed. Peel and chop into 1/2" pieces two plantains, 1 large or two smaller carrots and 1 potato. Peel and cut into 6 wedges 1 large chayote squash. Trim and cut into 1/2" pieces a handful of string beans (or long beans). Add these to a pot with 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 t. turmeric powder, 3/4 t. cayenne pepper and 3/4 t. salt. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

While the veggies are cooking, make the spice paste: combine and process in a blender 1 cup plain yogurt, 3 chopped small green chilies, 3-4 T. dried, unsweetened coconut (best if soaked for a few minutes in hot water and then drained well), a pinch of salt, 1 t. cumin seeds and 1 t. ground coriander powder. Set aside.

Drain the cooked vegetables of any remaining water by just covering the pan with a lid and pouring out and into the sink. Keep the veggies in the same pan and do not rinse. Place the pan back on your stove and add in the yogurt/coconut/spice paste. Simmer very VERY gently for 5 minutes. On another burner, heat 2 T. coconut oil over a high flame. When hot, toss in 1/2 t. black mustard seeds and allow them to pop, covering the pan so not too many escape! Immediately add a generous pinch of asafetida (also known as hing) and 12 or so curry leaves (straight from your freezer or fresh). Cook for 1 minute stirring constantly then add to the simmering veggies. Season to your liking with salt and black pepper. Serve hot.

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